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March 2017 Newsletter


There are several ways to skin a cat and you don’t need a sledge hammer to crack a nut; or so the sayings go.

The hot news in the travel world is that with almost immediate effect, passengers travelling to the USA and the UK from ten airports in the middle east (assuming Istanbul is back in the middle east), will not be allowed to carry any large electronic device such as a laptop or iPad in their hand luggage. Phones will still be allowed to be carried however.

The implication is of course that security is at the forefront for this decision with intelligence officials concerned that explosive devices are being designed to be carried inside laptops and by association, that the listed airports are “not secure’”.

When one considers that Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha, three brand new and ultra modern airports with the latest security technology and home to three of the world’s top airlines i.e. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are included in the list, it begs the question as whether or not less secure airports might also be included? It should also be noted that in Abu Dhabi, people travelling to the USA are screened on departure by US immigration and US customs making their long flight akin to a domestic USA flight! If Abu Dhabi has been given this endorsement how can it suddenly be one of the least secure airports in the world? Is Lagos in Nigeria where direct flights to the USA and UK operate any less secure? Not at all. This is however only the start of the fun!

There is nothing to stop a potential terrorist going from any of the named airports via say Rome, Paris or Amsterdam with his tampered with laptop or iPad in his hand luggage and he/she can even connect onto wherever they want and even onto an American plane to maximize the mayhem. Also, if something evil can be smuggled into electronics such as an iPad, it can almost certainly be smuggled into a telephone! Also how big is a telephone these days as there is a blurred line between a telephone and a tablet! How do ‘’book readers’” such as kindles fit into the ruling? Also, if laptops and ipads can do massive amounts of harm then they can make as much effect or damage if they are in the hold of the plane! Remember the Lockerbie attack; the plane downed by an exploding radio stored in a suitcase. Substitute radio nowadays for laptop and the same result ensues. Does this mean then that x-ray scanners of suitcases are stricter than those conducted on passenger’s hand luggage – not a chance. Hiding things of any description is likely to be far easier in a suitcase than on ones personal belongings.

The rise and onward and upward rise of Gulf airlines like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar has been achieved amidst the accusation from – in particular – American carriers who say their rivals receive state aid which they deem illegal. Not forgetting, which the Americans do, that state aid to US based airlines over the decades has amounted to tens of billions of dollars when US airlines repeatedly went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, often more than once. The past couple of years have seen these accusations gain in their intensity and prior to the recent US election; airlines bosses were begging the new government to take action against the proliferation of the gulf carriers which was again starting to threaten the business of the American owned carriers. Not long after the new President was elected he met with the vociferous airline bosses, who after the meeting were noticeably and unusually quiet with their opinions on how the meeting had gone. There did seem however a degree of smugness with their new friend.

Stopping passengers from carrying laptops et al means that those people from whom the airlines derive the most money i.e. first and Business Class passengers are deprived from working on board a flight and deprived from the quick getaway they yearn for on arrival at their destination. Business people pay a premium to conduct business and it is these premium passengers who are most likely to vote with their feet and move to other non-affected airlines and/or routes to enable them to keep their prized possessions with them at all times. By taking away this valuable source of income either from direct or indirect traffic you are also massively impacting or disrupting a business model; the business model of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar; who thrive and indeed depend on premium paying passengers. A warning or an attack?

There are several ways to skin a cat and you don’t need a sledge hammer to crack a nut.


Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

Mickey’s bosses cheat workers

Walt Disney Co. is being forced to pay some 3.8m USD in wage compensation to staff for violating minimum wage salaries. The company deducted money from staff for ‘”costume’” expenses which took the salaries below the minimum legal level, as well as not paying staff for pre and post shift duties.

There have been several legal cases surrounding work attire and the tax status of such work attire i.e. can you wear your work gear outside of work or not. but it’s hard to envisage going to the local supermarket or to the cinema dressed as Mickey or Goofy.

Equally, it’s also hard to believe that Disney’s no doubt highly paid legal advisors didn’t know exactly what they were doing with the labour contracts. If they did make an error then we suggest Disney get new lawyers.


Not good for Sofia

A recent report by consultancy company Mercer on the “’Quality of Living”’ hasn’t done Sofia too many favours. The report features 231 cities with Sofia coming in at 116th which is the lowest of any European capital cities. The state of Sofia’s infrastructure is mainly to blame for this performance.

The best place for the quality of living is Vienna followed by Zurich and Auckland. Munich came 4th followed by Vancouver 5th. Next in line were Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Geneva, Copenhagen and Basel. Interesting that of the top ten, eight are European cities.

At the other end of the pile, bottom came Baghdad followed by Bangui, Sana’, Port au Prince and Khartoum.

Interestingly, Sofia was also singled out recently as being the ‘”dirtiest” capital in Europe!


New horizons; no people

It was only a few months ago that amidst much fanfare, commercial flights re-started between Cuba and the USA, with airline companies battling each other to grab some of the new passenger routes on offer between these once rival countries. The forecasted boom in people wanting to travel between the two places though never materialized and this political whim has turned out to be a commercial disaster for some of the smaller airlines who won the flight rights. Two of them: Silver Airways and Frontier Airlines are to suspend their operations from next month. Too many flights and too large aircraft are being blamed for the ‘market conditions’ although one wonders if simply speaking, the Cubans who did manage to settle in the USA feel now is still not the right time to head back to the homeland?


Size counts

One for the airplane anoraks; – the battle between plane manufacturers Boeing and Airbus is well documented: who can sell the most, who can make the most profit, who has the most efficient planes etc etc. Whilst Airbus has worked on the notion at the ‘’big end’’ of the plane market that bigger is better and introduced the A380 superjumbo often carrying in excess of 500 passengers and designed to operate between main hub airports, Boeing focused on the strategy that smaller planes carrying 250- 300 people between secondary airports and/or less popular routes that cant support 500 passengers per flight. In reality both strategies have their merits. There is however one area where Boeing is currently scratching its head in how to combat Airbus and that is in the 180 – 230 seat area.

Boeing is developing a new variant 737 (max10) which will become operable in 2020 if things go to plan and which will accommodate plus/minus 230 passengers depending on how the owners want the configuration. Meanwhile, Airbus for some time now has had the A321 on its books and which typically carries around 230 passengers, indeed Lufthansa were the launch customer in 1994 for the machine. The A321 is described as a Mid Haul aircraft typically operating flights of say 5 – 6 hours in length. However, as demand for air travel increases, more and more airlines find themselves able to fill 230 seats on shorter routes and putting 230 passengers on a plane rather than 180 usually means either or both of ‘more profit/cheaper seats”.

Just as a first hand example of this in local terms, Ryanair use Boeing 737 800 machines that carry 180 people and with all credit to Ryanair, are invariably full when leaving Sofia. Wizz, in addition to their existing Airbus fleet of A320 that also carry circa 180 passengers, now have two brand new A321’s in their Sofia based fleet and are regularly carrying 230 passengers to destinations two hours away such as Malta and Milan Bergamo. So it’s almost a case of win win for local travellers: more flights and at rock bottom prices and more profit for the airlines with more bottoms on seats.

BA Group try Level best

British Airways owner IAG is to launch a Low Cost Long Haul airline with the name of ‘”Level”. The operation will initially be based in Barcelona and fly to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and Punta Cana using two new Airbus A330 planes with a capacity of 314 people. The crew will be from BA’s bedmate Iberia (cheaper staff than BA). Those not using the upgraded Premium Economy section will have to pay for food, wifi, bags and in flight entertainment.

IAG say that the new brand is now the groups fifth alongside BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling and great things are planned for the new brand; though they would say that wouldn’t they!


Déjà vu?

Alitalia is an airline that most people outside Italy have almost forgotten about. Even in Italy, its popularity has nose dived after years and even decades of mis management and poor direction. Around 50% of the market in Italy is already under the control of Low Cost Airlines such as Ryanair and Eurowings, the highest penetration in Western Europe, thus making any recovery plans Alitalia has to be taken with a pinch of salt – again.

Alitalia is partly owned by deep pocketed Gulf carrier Etihad with a 49% shareholding but even they must be thinking that of all their investments in aviation, this is the least successful! The new plan of Alitalia sees them moving to a Low Cost principle for its European flights with buy on board food and drink and 20 short haul aircraft will be dispended with. Its Long Haul operations will remain full service (food and drink etc) but will be subject to intense focus on costs. Déjà vu?

A pat on the back for the pilot

An interesting though no doubt frightening experience has apparently highlighted the fears of several experts concerned with the dangers of air turbulence generated by the A380 superjumbo.

A private jet carrying eleven people was literally flipped onto its back and plunged 10,000 feet (3000 metres) rolling over five times after hitting turbulence created by a Sydney bound A380 plane over the Arabian Sea.

The private jet was flying below the flight path of the airbus at the time and at the prescribed flight level: 34,000 feet (10,000 metres). The pilot of the private jet was able to stabilize the plane and made an emergency landing in Muscat where the plane was deemed by investigators to be a ‘”total write off”!

Don’t forget the smelly stickers

Drivers to the French cities of Paris, Lyon and Grenoble are reminded that they need to obtain vehicle emission stickers for their cars. The Crit’ Air scheme was introduced in January to tackle air pollution and vehicles are required to display the vignette which shows one of six pollution categories. On the spot fines of between  68 – 135 Euros can be imposed by the police for not displaying these stickers.

The new Crit’Air system is used on high pollution days to prevent the worst polluting vehicles from entering the affected cities. In future, certain vehicles may be banned from entering Crit’’  Air areas on certain days based on the emission sticker they have.

On or off?

The on, off, on saga surrounding the operating concession for Sofia Airport might yet have another twist and move again towards the ‘”off’” position if the current caretaker government gets its way. The fear muted by the people in temporary power is that the concession fee set by the previous government is too high and will result in higher fees for airlines which may result in airlines “’walking away’” from the city and it may also force up the cost of ticket prices. Both these arguments have merit.

The reason given for the high concession fee was that the last government wanted to use the funds to subsidize the state railways whose current condition can best be described as deplorable.

Sofia Airport is currently handling some 4.8 million passengers annually and with tourism and indeed Sofia short break tourism in the ascendancy, one false move that could cut force airlines like Ryanair to walk away could be catastrophic in budget plans. Low Cost Carriers can leave a destination just as easy as they arrived and case studies abound where politicians and airport bosses became overly smart and decided that increasing landing fees would be a nice earner for them. The opposite happened with airlines waving goodbye if they felt new charges would impact their own business model and it is the local community and local businesses that feel the hurt the most. This then filters through to fewer taxes collected for the government than previously.

The best suggestion might be to put any tender onto the back burner; so long as the deal hasn’t already been promised to someone.


Missing in flight?

The next time you fly on an Emirates, Qatar or Etihad flight (or indeed several other airlines from the same geographic area) you will no doubt use these airlines excellent IFE Systems (in flight entertainment). When you do, task yourself with finding Israel on the map system: you won’t find it as its not there!

Also not included on the flights are kosher meals although numerous other meal options are available.


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